Bailee O’Reilly (right) wrestles an opponent during his 160-pound matchup at the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Tournament March 3-5 in St. Paul, Minn.PHOTO BY MIKE KOSIK
Bailee O’Reilly (right) wrestles an opponent during his 160-pound matchup at the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Tournament March 3-5 in St. Paul, Minn.
GOODHUE, Minn. - As the Minnesota state high school wrestling tournament came to an end March 4, the bands of brothers dispersed for another year, but for the O'Reilly brothers, that band reaches far beyond the wrestling mat.
Five brothers, Bailee, 17, Kelby, 16, Kaleb, 16, Baxter, 14, and Maddox, 13, O'Reilly - ranging from a senior in high school to a seventh grader -, are all on the Goodhue Wildcats varsity wrestling team, and also reliable farm help on their family's 280-cow dairy near Goodhue, Minn.
"Dairying and wrestling are actually very similar," said the brothers' dad, Zach. "Whether it's farming or the sport, you have to be committed, consistent and keep things simple, and if you do it right you make your own luck."
Zach manages the dairy, Shamrock Farms, with his brother, Ben, and father, Steven.
In addition to milking cows and feeding youngstock, Zach and his wife, Dorothy, and the O'Reilly siblings, including the youngest two - Ethan and Greta - spent the first weekend in March cheering on their Wildcats, Bailee and Kelby, as they competed for state titles at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
As the oldest brother, Bailee has set quite the precedence in athleticism and character for his younger siblings. The high school senior ended his high school career in grand fashion with a state championship in the 160-pound class, after being named the 152-pound class A state champion last year and having the second-most all-time wins for Goodhue. He is now the first Goodhue wrestler to win two state championship titles.
"Setting a good example is always something I take pride in and the success on the mat is the reward," Bailee said. "I want them to treat everyone with respect, work hard in the classroom, and just do all the little things right."
For Kelby, it was his first year wrestling in the state competition. At 152 pounds, the high school sophomore claimed the section title and capped off the season with more than 35 wins, including a third-place finish at state.
"It's great knowing I came out of one of the best sections in the state, and was able to represent section 1, my family and, most importantly, my school," Kelby said.
Watching his sons grow in the sport has been a remarkable journey for Zach, who also wrestled as a youth.
"I wasn't as good as the kids are now," Zach said. "I've learned as soon as they hit 10th or 11th grade, I know better than to grab hold of them."
The O'Reilly brothers first began wrestling in kindergarten when they participated in folkstyle wrestling. Throughout the years, they developed the needed skills of a wrestler and became well versed in the traditional freestyle method and Greco.
When the brothers are not practicing at school, their garage is home for them to practice their moves and techniques.
"Even in the winter, we park our vehicles outside so that the mat is set up in the garage," Zach said.
Growing up on their family's dairy farm has also aided in the brothers' success, which is evident at every meet.
When able, the O'Reilly brothers help with milking and hay making - baling round bales, picking them up in the fields and storing them.
"They're always hauling manure or plowing or doing tractor work in the spring and fall," Zach said. "They do scrape and lime stalls, but I try not to give them too many chores when it's time to cut weight."
However, there is one exception. When Sundays arrive, regardless if it is the heart of wrestling season or not, the O'Reilly brothers are in the barn before daybreak.
Together, with one hired-hand, Codey Lexvold, they complete the chores while the farm's other employees have the day off.
"Dairy farming has taught me that hard work and dedication is the best path to success," said sophomore Kaleb, who wrestled the season at 145 pounds with 35 wins. "And I've also learned that it is the most rewarding in the end."
Zach agreed, attesting to how working on the dairy has encouraged his sons to have the right mindset when approaching a wrestling meet and being pleased with the results knowing they did their best.
Maddox said having older brothers to wrestle against and to mentor him has been advantageous.
"My brothers push me to do my best and nothing less than that," he said. "They have made me way better by doing extra wrestling and sometimes in the early mornings before school."
At 106 pounds and in seventh grade, Maddox completed his first varsity season with 20 wins.
Baxter said he tries to emulate his older brothers in many different ways.
"My brothers are great wrestlers and people," Baxter said. "I try to copy [Bailee's] work ethic, whether that is in school, on the mat or at home."
Baxter is an eighth grader, who finished the wrestling season with 16 wins in the 126-pound weight class after coming off a wrist injury from football.
When Baxter fully recovered, it was a memorable day for the O'Reilly family as all five brothers competed and won in the varsity competition - a double dual meet against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (WEM/JWP) and St. Peter.
"I was really hoping all my sons would make the team. When they finally did, that was a big deal," Zach said.
As a proud parent and dairy producer, balancing chores and cheering on the kids can be difficult, but Zach has not missed a single match. On competition days, Zach will help get the evening chores started and then leave the farm in enough time to watch his sons wrestle.
"I had no idea what it was like for my dad to watch me until I had my own kids," Zach said. "It's a lot of fun for me to watch my kids be successful."
The fun does not seem to be running out anytime soon. Next year, Ethan will be in seventh grade and eligible for the high school wrestling team, where the O'Reilly band will continue.